Count the Fail: The Impossible (2012)

(h/t Angry Asian Man)


From Bad Ass Digest:
The Impossible is a terrible movie even before you realize it’s a film that places the suffering of white people far, far above the suffering of brown people. But the fact that this is a movie set in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami that has no time for Thai people only makes the badness that much worse.

...The true story at the heart of the film is about a very wealthy family (but don’t worry, dad might be losing his high paying job, so we can understand them. If he does, mom will have to go back to her menial work as a physician) who spend Christmas at a bourgeois beach resort in Thailand. The kind of place where the closest you get to local flavor are the Thai servants. These are people who travel to another country without a shred of intellectual curiosity, who just want to fuck about on the beach. They’re really salt of the earth types.

Ewan McGregor is the dad, and Naomi Watts is the mom. They have three kids, one of whom is mean to his brother, so you know he’s going to probably learn some very valuable lesson. He’s the only one - nobody else has much of anything else to learn, and they certainly have no interest in connecting with or helping anybody else out. Basically this is a movie about how 280,000 people died so one white kid could learn to be less of a snot.

When the wave hits the parents are separated. Mom is swept away with the snotty son, while dad is left back at the resort. The two halves of the family don’t know the other survived, and they must make their way through the post-apocalyptic terrain of Thailand to find each other. Along the way they encounter many white tourists and very, very few Thai people. One of whom is an aboriginal medicine man or something, which likely reflects the totality of Thai culture, right?

I want to try a thought experiment here. Imagine if a Thai company made a movie about 9/11, and that movie was specifically about the experiences of a Thai family in Tower One. Don’t worry, it’s not a bummer - it’s an uplifting story of how these people escaped death and got home safely. But imagine that, in this Thai movie, every character is Thai. There are white people running around in the background, and two of them have a couple of lines, but every single character in this story about the attack on the World Trade Center is Thai.

You’d think this was pretty weird, I bet. You’d think it displayed provincial thinking, perhaps even a cinematic xenophobia. You’d probably even laugh at how petty and small-minded this film seems. You’d dismiss it.

Turn it around (and multiply the death toll of the event by almost 100) and you have
The Impossible. While I understand that white tourists would end up congregating with other white tourists after a disaster like this, the fact that the movie relegates all Thai people to background players is baffling. There are three Thai people with lines in the film: the aforementioned medicine man, who speaks only in un-subtitled Thai, a concierge at the resort (whose fate is unknown, uncared about) and a nurse at the hospital where mom, with a nasty, nasty leg wound, ends up. Maybe there’s a fourth, a guy who drives a truck, but I can’t remember if he actually has a line or just mimes looking at his watch to indicate he’s in a hurry.

“Wait,” you argue. “This is based on a true story. Maybe in the true story these people really had no contact whatsoever with Thai locals.” Maybe, but it’s worth noting that the real family is Spanish, a swarthy bunch who look nothing like the milk pale, fair-haired McGregor and Watts. If we’re taking liberties, let’s take a couple more - like the few liberties needed to humanize the Thai people who were devastated by the tsunami. By the end of The Impossible I was actually laughing at how assiduously the film kept Thai people backgrounded in every single scene; they’re always there, but as a faceless refugee mass. They are often literally obstacles the white characters must run around.

Like I said, even without the shades of imperialism,
The Impossible is a bad movie. It’s a film where the main characters become heroic simply by not dying. They don’t do anything particularly interesting, and they certainly don’t do a single damn thing to help another person (there’s a short sequence where Snotty Kid decides to do some good in the hospital, so he runs around trying to help white people (and one Asian lady) find their lost loved ones. That’s short lived, though). It’s almost comical: at one point mom and Snotty Son find a lost (white) baby, briefly help him out and - I swear to God - forget to bring him with them when they head to the hospital. It’s like a comedy.

The titular impossibility is the fact that these people all found each other after the disaster; there’s a big sequence of coincidences that leads to them being reunited. Spoiler, I guess. Anyway, it isn’t like they wouldn’t have been reunited no matter what - they all survived, they were all okay and eventually they would have gotten phone service to call home and get situated. I’m not a religious guy, but the movie needs God to work; only if the film intimates that a higher power brought them together does this story take on any meaning deeper than being an interesting anecdote.

The Impossible is an agonizing experience for anyone who refuses to have their emotions shamelessly fumbled with, like a drunk crudely groping his partner on the dance floor. This is a movie that deplorably milks human tragedy for awards season buzz. It’s a film that takes the horrors visited upon millions as an excuse to tell the sad tale of a family who lost all their luggage.
I...just...I can't....

Comments

  1. Leo Princess12/25/12, 2:07 PM

    They never learn, huh? Then again, it's more like they don't want to.

    "but it’s worth noting that the real family is Spanish, a swarthy bunch who look nothing like the milk pale, fair-haired McGregor and Watts"

    Well we can't possibly have people looking like the actual family in the film, can we?! Noooo! The audience might think they're Mexican or something!111 *here ends the sarcasm*

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  2. I haven't even seen the movie yet(not that I want to)and the storyline is already putting me to sleep.

    These days, movies don't have to have a definitive storyline. It seems that it requires is to just stand there and say "uh" and you'll be nominated for an Oscar award. To me,this is Tarzan and Cleopatra all over again. They can put a capital F in fail with this film.

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  3. Holly-white strikes again...and again...and again.

    Let me count the fail: one, two, three, four, five, six...(two hours later) 99,999, 100,000.

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  4. Heheheheh...had an Anonymous troll call the critique "passive aggressive cowardice."

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    Replies
    1. How was that even remotely passive aggressive?

      Delete
    2. Leo Princess12/25/12, 6:38 PM

      @Jas - I was wondering that myself, and then the last of my give-a-damn ran out. Some Anon troll calling someone else a coward, though...that's funny.

      Delete
    3. I doubt they even know what those words mean.

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  5. I kept asking myself, where are the people of color? Where is the story of the countless Thai people swept away from the arms of loved ones? Why is such an event ONLY a tragedy when it happens to whites? What does this say about a race of people who can go to a country running over with people of color and co-opt their tragedy for profit. That’s how utterly contemptuous whiteness can be. To use the carnage of a flood as backdrop for a few blonde people is beyond words.

    Note the comments from one reviewer:
    "But it’s worth noting that of the estimated 282,000 people who died or disappeared in the tsunami, only about 1,000 were European, so the filmmakers were already starting from a point that could be contentious—what about all those dark skinned residents of the Third World who died or lost everything? Turning the Spaniards into blue-eyed blonde Brits only exacerbates the sense that this is a story about a very small, well-to-do segment of the victim pool."

    I want to try a thought experiment here. Imagine if a Thai company made a movie about 9/11, and that movie was specifically about the experiences of a Thai family in Tower One. Don’t worry, it’s not a bummer - it’s an uplifting story of how these people escaped death and got home safely. But imagine that, in this Thai movie, every character is Thai. There are white people running around in the background, and two of them have a couple of lines, but every single character in this story about the attack on the World Trade Center is Thai.

    This about sums up the reaction to such a movie.
    “Yes, most of America would much rather watch a two hour movie about the thousands of Asians affected by the tsunami, it’d be very easy for them to relate to it. Subtitled, too, because having them speak English would be insulting. It would set the box office on fire.”

    To use a quote from Frasier: "At Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe.” So, even if you employed one of the most powerful devices on the face of the planet you’d be hard-pressed to find Empathy for people of color in the statement as referenced above.

    Furthermore, white critics would fault the film for its direction and lack of vision. Denigrating the piece on every level as being neither uplifting nor inspiring (because they're unable to relate to people with brown skin). Only white victims are worthy of our Empathy and compassion.

    The problem with privilege is in how it warps the mind. How it elevates the importance of skin color. Whites must be central in all things no matter the situation OR the country.

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    Replies
    1. Leo Princess12/25/12, 6:47 PM

      "Whites must be central in all things no matter the situation OR the country."

      I keep thinking how Danny Glover had to get funding for his Haitian Revolution film from South America (if I'm remembering correctly) because his script had no white heroes.

      "Only white victims are worthy of our Empathy and compassion"

      This comment from the article sums it up best: "I remember watching some captured footage of the tsunami filmed by some vacationing caucasion 1%ers, who were filming from their balcony, and as the flood waters were washing away cars, pool chairs, and PEOPLE- I have always remembered the off camera quote from the Dad who says- "Well we need to get to the airport, our vacation is ruined."" (Source)

      The empathy. It's overwhelming.

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    2. and as the flood waters were washing away cars, pool chairs, and PEOPLE- I have always remembered the off camera quote from the Dad who says- "Well we need to get to the airport, our vacation is ruined."

      *shudder*

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    3. *gag* Disgusting but expected ...

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  6. @Leo Princess said:
    "I keep thinking how Danny Glover had to get funding for his Haitian Revolution film from South America (if I'm remembering correctly) because his script had no white heroes."

    I remember that quite clearly. "Producers said 'It's a nice project, a great project... where are the white heroes?'" he told AFP during a stay in Paris this month for a seminar on film."

    For men like these, Empathy for POC can only be drummed up as long as there is a white hero for the target audience to latch onto. This can only be done by playing up the Nobility of the white hero. I mean where would blacks be without the benevolent intercession of a white enabler? Further if the white hero can be shown weeping for the loss of the black protagonist we’re talking Oscar people.

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  7. ... I'm at a loss for words. Fucking up this bad has to be either a conscious decision to be as huge an asshole as possible, or requires such immense stupidity it's a wonder you don't accidentally kill yourself when trying to open a door.

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  8. First Jack the Giant Slayer, now this.

    Ewan, you my boy and all, but what the fuck are you doing?

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  9. Greetings Ankhesen Mié
    I was searching your site to find a place to express my best wishes for you this holiday season,I could not find a place so I decided to comment here.

    Of course your on point and on the job as usual.
    As to the current topic at hand and the general consesus formed here, all I can do is say Duh, and cosign.

    I'm beginiing to find that your blog is as vast and deep as abagonds and I have a lot to learn.

    Anyway
    Much gratitude and Love.
    Mbeti

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  10. I had a run in with a few white apologists for this movie. Same old, same old. "Blah blah blah its a true story. Blah blah blah you're all oversensitive. Blah blah blah you're all a bunch of reverse racists. Blah blah blah whites are the ones who are truly oppressed." Because it's not enough to have white privilege, it's not enough to torture PoC, whites need to be seen as the oppressed ones.

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    Replies
    1. Media declare this movie as a "true" story. Yes, the occurrence of the Tsunami is true and it devastated many lives in more ways than one,but just to say this the only family to have weathered the storm and there were no Thais that have done the same is crazy.

      I remembered looking at the documentary about the Tsunami. The more I looked at it, the more I thought about this movie and baffled. There were so many Thai citizens who their stories about weathering their storms but weren't considered for this movie. How can you make a movie about the suffering of just this family in land of non-Whites?.It's just amazing how you can be considered for an award( Naomi Watts got a SAG award for this film) for a half-truth movie.

      " Whites are the ones that have been truly oppressed...?" Oh god! Evidently they don't read history books( that was written mostly by White historians), check the records in the archives and/ or interview people that have been there. I just love when those racists keep denying the truth.At least if they were going to run their trap, they should have some facts to back their claims

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  11. So I wonder what the Thai people are gonna do about this...

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  12. "THE IMPOSSIBLE" indeed. They could not have given this movie a better title.

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